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Today I turn 31. Somehow I’ve managed to go this long without knowing that I shared a birthday with the famous astronomer Edwin Hubble (after whom the Hubble Space Telescope is named). This is cool! Even though I also share my birthday with Joe Biden, Mike D (of the Beastie Boys), and Robert F. Kennedy, by far the coolest is Edwin Hubble. If this is not proof of the immensity of my nerdiness, I don’t know what is.

Hubble was a pioneer in the field of extragalactic astronomy. His work, along with that of his colleagues and observations from other astronomers, led to the realization that the universe is continuously expanding. This is know as the metric expansion of space, and is a key component of the Big Bang Theory. Yeah, pretty serious stuff. I feel pretty cool to share a birthday with Mr. Hubble. Were he still alive, he would be 123 years old.

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Michael Eades mentioned this yesterday, but I didn’t get a chance to check it out fully until today. The makers of Google Chrome are doing some very cool experiments with their browser, pushing the limits of what’s possible. This scalable, true-to-scale visualization of our home galaxy, centered on our own Sun, is simply phenomenal. It’s one of the coolest things I’ve seen on the internet in quite some time. Bravo, Chrome-people. Bravo. Do yourself a favor and check it out now.

I don’t announce many non-music events on this blog, but this is one big exception: Neil deGrasse Tyson will be speaking at Vanderbilt University’s Langford Auditorium next Tuesday, Nov. 13th. This guy is a total badass. He is one of the few true “real science” celebrities, and he’s also one of my personal heroes. He’s been on TV countless times- hosting shows on PBS, Discovery Channel, Science Channel and more, as well as guest appearances on The Daily Show and Colbert Report many times. I have no idea what he will talk about, but mark my word it will be entertaining and informative. The guy always manages to succeed in convincing the masses that nerd stuff is cool, and is thus an invaluable ambassador of science to the public. I strongly suggest getting your ticket now via any Ticketmaster outlet. They’re only $5 for non-Vandy students, and $10 for general public. (And free if you’re a Vandy student, staff, or faculty member!)

UPDATE: I didn’t realize this event was already sold out! So, still awesome and I hope you got tickets in time!

Here’s the official Vanderbilt link for more info.

See you there!

Credit: NASA/JPL

This bizarre-looking animation is not some kind zit popping (which is the first thing that came to mind when I first saw it), but in fact the hole left behind in some Martian soil after the Curiosity rover zapped with a high-powered laser in order to study its chemical composition. Curiosity has been steadily traveling across its home, Gale Crater, and doing lots of good science along the way. This latest experiment zapped the soil 30 times to heat it up to a temperature so hot that it glows. Each element glows at a specific color of light when heated to those temperatures, and an instrument called a spectroscope reads those colors emitted and can discern exactly what elements the glowing material is made of. Curiosity also recently took several scoops of soil from the surface which will be delivered to various onboard instruments this week, which will directly examine its mineral makeup. I’m looking forward the release of those results, as they could tell us whether or not Mars could’ve supported life in the past. But I couldn’t resist posting this bizarre animated GIF… just keep staring at that for a while.

(Via Bad Astronomy and NASA)

Very exciting news in the world of planet hunting! Our nearest star (that’s not our own sun) Alpha Centauri has an Earth-mass planet orbiting it! The planet is 1.13 times the mass of Earth, but only takes 3.24 days to orbit the star. That short orbital period means it’s VERY close to its parent star Alpha Centauri B, and probably has a surface covered in hot molten lava- not a pleasant place. The Alpha Centauri system is famous because it’s so close to us and has been included in many sci fi movies and stories. It’s a triple-star system only 4.3 light years away, and if it does turn out to have a habitable planet, it would no doubt be the destination of our first interstellar travels, if and when we ever develop the technology for it. This planet was found using the radial velocity method, which observes the faint wobble that an orbiting planet exerts on its parent star. Apparently this wobble was so faint and hard to detect that its discovery is somewhat of a milestone in the art of planet hunting. Scientists also think that this discovery increases the chance that we will find a habitable world in the Alpha Centauri system. For more info check out Bad Astronomy or New Scientist.

This video clip shows some of the amazing footage from Felix Baumgartner’s chest and head cameras during his successful supersonic skydive attempt Sunday. I’m sure you’ve heard most of this by now, but the preliminary numbers are 9 minutes & 3 seconds jump to landing, top speed of 833.9 mph or Mach 1.24, jump height of 128,100 feet, and freefall time of 4 minutes & 20 seconds. He broke all the records previously owned by Col. Joe Kittinger (who was a consultant on the mission and coached Felix through the whole jump) except for one: longest freefall. Presumably this is because he fell so fast. The faster you fall the shorter your freefall time will be. Felix entered a terrifying spin during the first part of the dive, but he managed to regain control and did not have to deploy the emergency stabilization chute, which would have prevented him from breaking speed of sound.

In other science-related news, photographer and videographer Christopher Malin created a surreal new type of timelapse that I’ve yet to see used on space station footage- a stack. Stacking involves blending each frame of the footage into the next, creating a blurred effect with light trails and star trails. Just watch it, it’s kind of a head trip:

Just a quick roundup of some news and updates in the science world:

  • Felix Baumgartner’s supersonic, record-setting skydive attempt was delayed until Tuesday morning due to weather concerns. The balloon launch is scheduled for around dawn, so I’ll try to tune into the interwebs tomorrow morning to see how it goes. More at Discovery News.
  • Space X successfully launched its first official, non-demonstration mission to the ISS last night. The launch was successful despite the Falcon 9 rocket losing one of its 9 main engines about 90 seconds into the launch. The faulty engine was immediately shut down and the onboard computer recalculated the flight trajectory, adding the necessary burn time to get its Dragon capsule to the correct orbit to rendezvous with the ISS. Phil Plait at Bad Astronomy has the full deets.
  • The Mars Rover Curiosity successfully scooped up a sample of soil and agitated it in a bin this past weekend. Instruments on board will soon run a series of tests to determine if the soil could have supported microbial life in the past. Check out this video created from a couple hundred photos taken of the sample as it was being agitated.
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